In Riga, the disarray of the Russian intelligentsia in exile

Par Allan Kaval

Posted today at 02:18

On the edge of the flat waters of the Baltic, quiet, tree-lined streets stretch parallel to the long, soft beach of fine sand in Jurmala, a Latvian seaside destination popular with generations of the wealthy. From the notables of the tsarist period to the bourgeoisie of Putin’s Russia, passing through the members of the Soviet nomenklatura, the elite of the empire could enjoy there in the summer of its little piece of Europe by the sea, while near picturesque Riga. Its villas have lost none of their elegance. But they are no longer just for vacationing. Some of their occupants have made it their refuge. Here, Russian intellectuals exiled since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, or more recently the war in Ukraine, question their role and the possibility of building a Russia other than that of Vladimir Putin.

Elena Lukianova, a Russian law professor exiled in Jurmala, Latvia, on May 11, 2022.

“I am convinced that the aggression against Ukraine will hasten the fall of the regime”, launches with conviction the Russian professor of constitutional law Elena Lukianova, in what was in other times the kitchen of her Latvian second home. “But the agony of authoritarian regimes can last a long time… Everything will depend on the victory of the Ukrainian people. At the same time, we can’t stay here waiting…” So what to do? For meme Loukianova, who is one of the many liberal researchers at the School of Advanced Economic Studies in Moscow, the flagship of the Russian university, dismissed in 2020, the mission of this intelligentsia in exile is first of all to show Europe that she can make herself useful.

“A nation without state or territory”

“As jurists, political scientists, economists, we have an inside knowledge of this regime. We can analyze, explain, and prevent European capitals from falling into Putin’s traps, she details, but, as Russians, for now, we are seen as toxic. It’s up to us to show that those who are against Putin and against this war exist and that they want to belong to the community of Europeans. We may be in the minority in Russia but we are in the majority abroad. »

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Like other intellectuals, the professor approached the Russian Antiwar Committee founded by the former oligarch and opponent based in London, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. However, she admits, projects for concrete alternative structures, institutions in exile, like those set up by the Belarusian opposition, are struggling to see the light of day. “A free academic domain, integrated into the European university fabric, could serve as the nucleus for something more ambitious”, hope Mme Lukianova, who is one of the rectors of the Free University, an online education structure registered in Latvia after the mass layoffs that affected Russian academics in 2020. “Everything is to be built and we don’t really have an example. »

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